I snuck into the ballet yesterday. I don’t usually like the ballet, or possibly, I don’t usually understand the ballet in the way other people seem to. I was never one of those little girls who longed to be a ballerina- for a moment, aged 8 years I thought I did, but that was because I had read ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild and was thrilled by the idea of parents who danced, or played in an orchestra, and living in a crumbling old house in Pimlico (which I knew nothing about, so populated with images of rooms seen in my Mother’s Vogue).
What I was in fact enchanted by was being Bohemian, which had nothing to do with being a ballerina.
I snuck into the ballet because my great friend had worked out a secret passage between her own ballet class and the Royal Opera House. We saw the second half of ‘Giselle’ (the secret passage is, by necessity, circuitous), and during the performance I tried very hard to work out why I didn’t love ballet.
As a child, I was taken to the ballet several times, but there was nothing about being a ballerina that captured my imagination in the same was as being, say, an astronaut. The ballet meant having my hair brushed more than usual (which I hated, having a Mother who held no truck with ‘being gentle’ and whose method of knot-removal was to tell me sharply to ‘stop wriggling’), and having to share an armrest with my little sister (who still hasn’t understood that the polite thing to do in this situation is place both her arms in her lap), and being told to be quiet at all costs. My Mother’s conviction that quietness is next to godliness was never more in play than at the ballet, when we were made to unwrap every single one of our boiled sweets before we got there, in case we accidentally rustled. (I cannot impress upon you enough how disgustingly furry unwrapped boiled sweets become, when kept in the cardigan pockets of little girls).
‘The jumping is good,’ I whispered to my friend. ‘And I like the costumes, and the dramatic make-up, but honestly, what makes the ballet so special? Surely they could just-‘ ‘Ssh,’ my friend said, shaking her head. ‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘That’s it. All I need now are some unwrapped boiled sweets.’